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Upon a Midnight Clear (Chapter Three)

Kim sat still on the couch, her back stiff, her forehead creased with worry. The TV was off and the only light, a floor lamp beside the couch, cast an eerie glow about the room. It was almost eleven o'clock, and she had not yet seen Dr. Anthony Hoffman. She stood up and walked over to the glass windows that separated the waiting room from the hall, anxiously awaiting his arrival. She gently rested her fingertips on the pane of glass as she leaned forward, stretching her neck to look down the hall. Please, she thought, praying for the arrival of the doctor. Please hurry.

She walked back to the couch and forced herself to sit back down. She stared at the half-finished puzzle in front of her. She could understand why they kept a hearty supply of jigsaw puzzles in this room. They were just about the only thing you could do when your entire body was consumed with a mind- numbing pain.

"Kim?"

Kim glanced up. Dr. Harkavey stood in the doorway. Beside him stood the same man she had met earlier that day. The only difference was that he had traded in his jeans and luau shirt for hospital- issue blue scrubs. It looked like he hadn't even had time to go home to shave. "This is Dr. Hoffman. He's in charge of your father's heart surgery."

Kim nodded, waiting for him to say, Hey! You're the girl who gave me that sorry song and dance and swiped my ticket.

"Hi, Kim," he said instead, shaking her hand. "I'm Tony Hoffman. I thought you might have some questions."

Tony, she thought, focusing on how he had introduced himself. She preferred calling her doctors "doctor." But still, she was appreciative that he had not mentioned their earlier meeting. At least, he hadn't mentioned it yet. "Thank you… thank you for interrupting your vacation____"

"Of course," he said, letting her off the hook. Both he and Dr. Harkavey looked at her, as if waiting for her questions. "Um," she said. Her mind was a blank. "How long do you think the operation will be?"

"About seven hours. We have to take the heart out, stop it, and fix the problems and put it back."

"You have to stop the heart?" Kim said, looking worriedly at Dr. Harkavey.

He nodded. "The blood will be pumped mechanically." Tony smiled at her encouragingly before checking his watch. After a brief, empty pause, he said, "If you don't have any more questions, I should get going."

Kim nodded, still finding it difficult to believe that this was the same man she had met in the airport. He may be one of the best heart surgeons in the country, but he certainly didn't look the part.

"Yovu father's going to be just fine," Tony said, as if sensing that she needed to be reassured.

She felt as though she couldn't breathe. She must have looked ill, because Tony said, "There are rooms here if you'd like to lie down."

She shook her head. "I'll wait here."

"All right," Tony said, with a quick nod of his head. "I'll come back and see you when we're finished."

After he bad left the room Kim glanced up at Dr. Harkavey. "He's not quite what I expected," she admitted.

He smiled as he said, "He's a little unconventional, but he's one of the best in the country, if not the best"

Kim nodded. She must not have looked convinced because he then added, "I promise you."

Kim paced the floors, checking her watch every five minutes. She made several quick trips to the coffee machine, although she didn't need any help staying awake. Every time anyone walked past the waiting room, she jumped, certain that it was someone with news for her. Bad news.

She forced herself to focus on the jigsaw puzzles. At four-thirty in the morning she was on her fifth cup when she heard someone say her name. She looked up. Dr. Hoffman stood in the doorway. Fearful of what he might say, Kim felt her body go rigid. He stepped inside the room and sat down next to her. "Everything went well," he said. "Your father did just fine."

Kim breathed a sigh of relief as the tears began to flow. "Thank you."

"He's resting now. I think you'll be able to see him tomorrow morning, if you like."

Kim nodded, delicately wiping her face with her forefinger. "I was so worried," she said. "When I found out that I was the reason you weren't here on time…"

"It didn't make any difference," he said quietly. "Don't torture yourself. You were right. You should have been here with him. There was nothing I could do until he stabilized, and he didn't stabilize until after you arrived. I think you were responsible. Your being here gave him the strength he needed."

Kim's tears slowed. "Really? He wasn't even awake when I saw him." He nodded. "He may not have been awake, but I'm sure he sensed your presence. So it was perfect timing. Because by the time I arrived we were ready to begin surgery." He smiled again. It was a nice smile. A reassuring smile.

"Well, in any case, I'm sorry."

"You shouldn't be." He smiled at her. Kim stared into his hazy green eyes. One could forget one's troubles staring into eyes like that. "Why don't I show you where the rooms for families of critical care patients are," he continued. "They're in a building next to the hospital. You can get some sleep."

She shook her head. "No," she said adamantly. "I want to stay here."

He nodded. "That's fine, too." He smiled reassuringly. "I'm sure I'll see you tomorrow."

What a thoughtful man, Kim thought silently, as she watched him walk out of the waiting room. He seemed to honestly care, not only about her father but about her comfort as well.

Kim drifted toward the couch and prepared to settle in for the night. She glanced around the empty room and recalled her first meeting with her father's surgeon. She appreciated his not mentioning her "little outburst" at the airport in front of Dr. Harkavey. Instead, he had been sweet and kind, reassuring her that she shouldn't feel guilty for her actions–despite the inconvenience she had caused.

Kim smiled as she remembered what she had said to Barbara about surgeons only hours earlier. And now it appeared, sitting alone in a waiting room miles away from her life in Florida, doctors were her only friends. Maybe… just maybe, she had been wrong about the type of men and women who went into this intense, high-pressure career. Perhaps they weren't all like her father.

At the thought of her father, Kim lay down on the couch, brushing away a tear as hours of delayed fatigue washed over her. She pulled her sweater around her shoulders, using it as a blanket. Within moments she was asleep.

Tony took a sip of black coffee as he waited for the elevator. He glanced over at the clock on the wall. Five-thirty. It was already morning.

It was hard to believe that twenty-four hours ago he was asleep with his window open in the balmy Bahamas. It had been his first vacation in years. And it had lasted exactly two days.

It had been difficult for Tony to go on vacation in the first place, mainly because he knew he would be traveling alone. He was not dating anyone whom he cared enough about to share his valuable vacation days. In fact, he had recently resigned himself to the solitary life of a confirmed bachelor, a life filled with first dates and casual relationships. He had not yet met any woman who had captured his heart, and he had promised himself that he would not settle for anything less. He had learned his lesson in his last painful breakup, with the woman he had been involved with for six years. They had both sensed that they were not right for each other from the beginning of the relationship, yet that had not made the demise of their relationship any less painful.

He squinted his eyes as though trying to squeeze out the fatigue. He had to exorcise the Bahamas from his mind. He had been given one of the most important cases of his career. He couldn't afford to be tired. He had his boss and his nemesis under his care: Dr. Harold Risson.

The elevator arrived and the doors opened. Tony stepped inside and pressed the button for the third floor. The critical care ward.

He had worked for and with Harold Risson for almost five years. Their relationship had been strained from the start. He had little in common with the rigid, conservative chief of the department. But their differences had little to do with style or social opinions. Risson seemed to possess a hearty and intense dislike for Tony. Rumor had it that when Risson retired, Tony was in line for Risson's job. Risson seemed to take these rumors to heart, making it clear that he had no intention of retiring anytime soon. In reality, Tony was not "after" Risson's job. He had made a point to stay out of office politics, and had even made it clear to the head administrator that he would never accept the position unless Risson himself nominated him for it. But that simple act hadn't eased the tension between them. In fact, just last month Risson had attempted to transfer Tony to a smaller, less prestigious hospital. Risson had long complained that Tony lacked discipline, but others, including the head of the hospital, disagreed. Fortunately for Tony, not everyone was as conservative as Harold Risson.

Of course, Tony thought, he had to give Risson credit. He had been a trailblazer in his day. A gifted and talented surgeon, he had been one of the first doctors in the state to do transplants. But Risson was from the old school, where doctors were next to God in terms of power. They received their MD, learned their craft, developed their specialty, and that was that. Tony was from the new school of doctors, the ones who viewed medicine as part of a growing field that included holistic and natural approaches to healing. Tony liked to think of medicine as an art, a field that was constantly changing, a field in which he needed to try new techniques just to stay on top. In a field with little room for rebels, Tony pushed the conservative thinking to the limit.

He stepped off the elevator and began walking toward the critical care unit As he approached the waiting room, his thoughts drifted back to Kim. Who would've thought that the woman who had talked him out of his plane ticket was Risson's daughter? It figures. She's probably every bit as tough as her father. He chuckled as he remembered the expression on her face when she demanded he give up his seat on the plane. Like father like daughter.

In fact, he had not even been aware that Risson had a daughter–and the news had surprised him. He had never heard Risson, or anyone, for that matter, mention Risson's family. But then again, Risson never socialized with anyone in the hospital. Tony doubted if Risson socialized much with anyone. He was always working. Always at the hospital. Tony had assumed that the reason why Risson would never step down as chief of the department was because he had no life to retire to. Risson was known as a lonely, unhappy man. In fact, if Tony hadn't seen it with his own eyes, he would've bet money that Risson didn't even have a heart.

Still, he thought, remembering the concern he had seen on Kim's face, his daughter seemed to love him.

Tony stopped at the window and peered inside the waiting room. Kim was by herself, sleeping curled up on a couch, using her small sweater as a blanket. The light was still on beside her.

Tony paused for a moment. She was a beautiful woman, with strong yet delicate features. He shook his head. He felt sorry for her. This was a hell of a way to spend a holiday. Alone in the critical care ward, waiting to see if her father would live or die.

He stepped away and walked briskly into an empty hospital room. He snagged an extra blanket and headed back toward the waiting room. Careful not to wake her, he slipped inside the room and laid the blanket on top of her. Turning off the light, he bid her a silent good-night.

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